"The draft law for the Central Election Commission has been finalised and will be delivered to Government," declared Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Ambassador Geert-Hinrich Ahrens in a press conference earlier this week in Tirana. Although the opposition's experts did not participate in final discussions of the draft, experts from the OSCE and the ruling centre-left coalition have finished their work on the law. The opposition parties recently organised a public roundtable and declared that they will participate in the election in any case, but they still have objections to the nominated commission and have expressed their concern about possible manipulation of the next local elections. After approval by Government, the draft law must also be approved by Parliament. The opposition parties will have the possibility of objecting to it in the parliamentary session.
According to the newspaper Koha Jone (Our Time), Ermelinda Meksi, Albanian Minister of Financial and Economic Co-operation with Europe, says that the primary factor impeding Albania's membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) is the different approaches of the European Union and United States of America. Meksi says this impasse can be resolved only by an agreement between the EU, on which France has great influence, and the US. It is mostly a case of principles in regard to strategies that are going to be prepared and implemented by the two most important blocs in the WTO, the EU and the US, declared Meksi, adding that the acceptance of Albania depends on the solution of the problems surrounding use of international broacasting frequencies, although Albania is not a big user. In a press release on this issue two weeks ago, Belgian Euro-Deputy Olivier Dupuis accused France of blocking Albanian membership in the WTO.
In an interview with the Albanian press about last week's Budapest conference on the Kosovo issue, sponsored by the American Institute for Ethnic Relations, Foreign Minister Paskal Milo said that "Kosovo's representatives... articulated clearly that Kosovo's future status should be independence. We do not deny the right of the Albanians of Kosovo to self-determination and do not object to the option presented, but we stress that Kosovo is part of the region and that its future should be found in relation to European integration and to unification with the greater European Union." Milo also commented on the debate about the so-called Greater Albania theme, which was introduced by representatives of the Serbian opposition and the Serbian minority of Kosovo, especially by the Italian representative. "We objected to this theme, arguing that history shows that the idea of a 'Greater Albania' has never been mentioned or discussed, but only a 'Greater Greece, ' 'Greater Bulgaria' and 'Greater Serbia.'" The Foreign Minister added that this is a misinterpretation of the Albanian call for a natural integration of Albanians within the regional or European process and has nothing to do with the foundation of a so-called Greater Albania.
Following a meeting on 10 April 2000 of Interior Minister Spartak Poci with a delegation from the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), headed by General Wée Schéeifer, Vice Commissioner of UNMIK, Albanian citizens now need only identity cards to cross the northern Albanian border post of Qafe Prushi from the city of Has to the Kosovo city of Gjakova. According to Albanian customs authorities, citizens who want to pass through this Albanian border post into Gjakova will be provided with free identity cards, valid for 24 hours. Contact between the neighbouring cities of Has and Gjakova has been prohibited for 50 years.
On 25 April 2000, Albania and Montenegro will sign a memorandum of mutual understanding and co-operation in economy, commerce and culture. In response to an Albanian proposal made during the official visit of Foreign Minister Paskal Milo to Montenegro, his counterpart, Branko Lukovac, quickly sent his affirmative reply. According to sources at the Foreign Ministry, Milo will make another official visit to Podgorica on 24 to 25 April 2000 to meet with Foreign Minister Lukova, Montenegrin President Đukanvic and Montenegrin Premier Vujanovic.
Mayors of the municipalities through which the multi-billion-euro "Corridor 8" transport project will affect have organised a meeting with representatives of the Ministries of Transport, Economic Co-operation and Local Power. Headed by Durres Mayor Arqile Gorea, the group hopes to accelerate the development of Corridor 8 and to solve various problems related to private properties along its route. Participants believe the meeting will facilitate co-operation between central and local governments, which are dominated by the Socialist Party and Democratic Party, respectively. At present, nine Albanian mayors belong to the Association. Mayors from Macedonia and Bulgaria, through which this important transportation corridor also passes, are expected to join in the future.
Italian film director Giani Ameglio has been invited to be a juror for the XI Albanian Film Festival. The participation of Ameglio, director of the film L'Amerika, on the Festival's jury has stirred heated debate within the artistic community. L'Amerika, which deals with Albania and Albanians during the year 1990 and metaphorically refers to Italian history after World War II, was attacked by some critics when it was first released. According to Petrit Beci, Director of the National Cinema Centre, Ameglio wants to serve on the festival jury and to visit Albania again.
Cartoonist Medi Belortaja will participate in an international cartoon exhibition that opens 1 May in New York City. His invitation to exhibit was sent by Yasua Yoshitomi, president of the Congress of Cartoonists of Kyoto. The show, titled "2000 International Cartoon Exhibition," will run throughout the month of May in UN headquarters. According to the exhibition organisers, a great number of cartoonists from around the world competed, but only 75 were asked to participate. Belortaja has already been awarded nine international prizes for his artwork.
According to Albanian police, the Albanian religious "San Maria" icon, stolen two years ago from a church in Sopiku, a village near the southern city of Gjirokastra, has been found in Britain. The Gjirokastra police have already arrested two suspected thieves, members of the minority Greek community. The icon, which weighs 50 kg, is carved from wood and completely covered with silver. It was sold in Greece for GDR 20 million, and later sold in Britain for the equivalent of USD 100,000. The Church of San Maria, from which the icon takes its name, was constructed in 1779.
Artur Nura, 14 April 2000